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Beyond the assumed interests of the so-called “sub-Regional geopolitical forces” Boko Haram is today the root of all the evil forces in Northern Nigeria

Recently there has been an upsurge of kidnappings in the North. This upsurge is actually as a result of the Nexus of the evil forces operating in Northern Nigeria.

The government through the Presidential spokesperson had described the current mass kidnappings as the activities of sub-Regional geopolitical forces. I think the government needs to think much deeper and connect the dots in the axis of evil that is now the northern region. I don’t think it is so simplistic as to be pinned on the sub-Regional contest for relevance taking place in the Sahel and parts of West Africa.

It has deep roots that are both social and historical. And the tap root is Boko Haram. More disturbing is the expectation that America or the West will help solve the problem or help recover the victims of recent abductions. That again is over simplifying it. The West is an interested party in the stability of Nigeria or lack of it.

A stable Nigeria will be a bulwark against the free-for-all exploitation of the natural resources of the countries of the Sahel and sub-saharan Africa especially West Africa. The West also sees Nigeria as the potential power house of the region with capacity to upset Western dominance of the economy of West Africa. This much is clear after the coup in Niger.

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To understand the nexus of all the forces of evil in the North, one must delve into the origin of the evil network established in the North and the nature of the fertile ground created that enables such evil to germinate and flourish.

Beyond the assumed interests of the so-called “sub-Regional geopolitical forces” Boko Haram is today the root of all the evil forces in Northern Nigeria. But Boko Haram itself would not have flourished if the North and indeed Nigeria had addressed it’s leadership insensitivity to the plight of ordinary citizens.

The excruciating poverty and it’s weaponization as a means of power ascendancy is a major culprit in breading evil forces in Northern Nigeria. In addition the widening social inequality and the near total absence of empathy on the part of a greedy, selfish and self-centered ruling class all combine to exacerbate an already bad situation. Little wonder therefore that these narratives were used to recruit young people into Boko Haram by its founder Muhammad Yusuf.

It should be realized that the emergence of Boko Haram in the North East of Nigeria can be traced to the Maitatsine uprising of the early 1980s in Kano. After the disbandment of the group in Kano it’s elements dispersed into many places including Borno, Gombe, Adamawa and Niger states. Those in Borno, Adamawa and Gombe rose in Bulunkutu, Jimeta and Jeka da fari. They were routed in 1982, (Maiduguri) 1984 (Yola) and 1985 (Gombe). But not all of them were crushed. A splinter group organized itself and withdrew from Maiduguri to a place called Kanamma in Yusufari LGA in the current Yobe state. They referred to themselves as the “Nigerian Taliban”

Between 21st December 2003 to January 2004 the Nigerian Taliban carried out attacks on government buildings and police formations across areas in Borno and Yobe states. Boko Haram is an offshoot of the Nigerian Taliban. The group’s founder Muhammad Yusuf was initiated into the Nigerian Taliban by it’s leader Muhammad Ali.

When the Taliban was crushed, Yusuf went into self-exile in Saudi Arabia. It is assumed that while in Saudi Arabia he toured other middle eastern countries and made contacts with several terror groups. He was also said to have developed interest in sociology and the dynamics of society while on exile. This much was manifest in his preachings when he returned to Nigeria from his self imposed exile.

When Muhammad Yusuf returned to Nigeria he settled in Maiduguri and built a mosque where he preached daily. He was also a guest scholar preaching in many mosques around the North East. I was a witness to one such preaching foray in my hometown of Mubi. That peaceful town was later occupied by Boko Haram and the name changed to “Madinatul Islam” The messages of Muhammad Yusuf’s preaching are often centred around denunciation of Western Education and the rejection of the legitimacy of the secular Nigerian state which he considered as evil.

He blamed this “evil” form of government as responsible for all the problems afflicting Nigerians such as poverty, unemployment, high cost of living, lack of value for certificates obtained by the youth. The most important message he proposed was that such a bad governance template is responsible for the promotion of nepotism, and the social inequality in our society. Such narratives jelled very well with a jobless, hopeless and despondent youth population.

I dwelled so much on the origin of Boko Haram in order to draw an appropriate Nexus with other evil forces operating in Northern Nigeria and the connection with what is happening today. I will equally draw the attention of the reader to the fact that the fertile ground that made Boko Haram flourish in the North East has been the narratives around bad governance, the greed of the ruling elites and the unsympathetic manner we have configured our society as a people. This is seen as the reason behind the social inequality in our societies and the attendant weaponization of poverty as a means of attaining power. This is not helped by the penchant of the ruling class to shamelessly display opulence in the face of abject poverty within populations.

After the death of Muhammad Yusuf, there were three groups that emerged with different ideologies and concepts of how the group should be run and the nature of activities to be carried out. First was the issue of leadership. There is a group that believes leadership should be determined by bloodline. Such a group wanted the leader’s son to step into the father’s shoes. Another group wanted the existing hierarchy to be respected. A third group wanted the bloodletting to abate. While Boko Haram as a group maintained a semblance of cohesion, these three contending forces continued to be antagonistic within it. Eventually the group headed by Shekau which believes hierarchy should determine leadership prevailed. The other two splinters were subsequently marginalized.

One of the splinter groups went to ISIS and declared allegiance. They were accepted on the condition that they formed a province of ISIS in the West Coast of Africa. Thus, emerged the Islamic State of West Africa Province or ISWAP. With time they became so strong that they were able to subdue the Shekau group and become the dominant wing. The third splinter group became what is known as ANSARU and they moved to the center of the country joining other hardliners in Niger and Kogi states. The majority of the ANSARU leaders are from these two states. Therefore most of the jihadist activities taking place in the North Central are products of the Ansaru. But where does the North West come in?

If there is one group Nigeria has ignored for two long it’s the herder group. The migratory nature of animal husbandry by the Fulani nomads had been long outdated. The most profound negative impact of such migrations is that it made the migrants landless. They have no hometowns and hence practically no homes. Without homes they have no lands. Their world view is shaped by this fact of “being owners of all lands, and being owners of no land” In the past they had some understanding with farmers that in the dry season they lived on their farms so that the animal droppings serve as organic manure to the farmlands. It was a worthy symbiotic relationship that served both groups very well.

With the introduction of inorganic fertilizer this relationship became less attractive. Then the northern elites came into the mix buying lands, fencing them and denying the herders access to even free ranges. The new realities created pressure on the herders. The land speculators bought off all lands including grazing reserves and cattle routes. Most of these lands lie fallow with no activities on them. But they deny the herders access.

Most the animals herded by the herders do not belong to them. They belong to the rich folk who give them as a store of wealth. Now with quick money being made in oil business, dollar speculations and sundry political patronage, buying animals as a store of wealth became unfashionable. To add salt to a troubling situation cattle rustling became rampant. In the past cattle rustling was minimal as only few cows were stolen at a time. But because of the extreme social connections between the herders and their animals, such isolated cases end up being caught at the cattle markets. But today the whole heads of cattle are taken away from the herders. But disposing of herds of cattle also became another challenge. Suddenly kidnapping for ransom began to provide more money than cattle rustling. A Nexus was instantly created between the more enlightened urban criminals and the illiterate dispossessed cattle herders. Kidnapping became the new norm.

What is the real Nexus of the evil forces? That Nexus created specializations and core competences. Those with contacts to Arms supplies became specialized in arms dealing. The kidnappers and cattle rustlers became the sources of funding the evil agenda. The Boko Haram/ISWAP militants became military trainers. All others including those attacking communities on vengeance mission keyed into this Nexus.

My postulation is that all of the axis of evil operating in Northern Nigeria are connected by both their evil agenda and activities. We need to widen the dragnet of our intelligence gathering to establish this Nexus and destroy their connections. They are not isolated and independent groups operating on different fronts for different purposes. They are a unified group with each sub-group following a different evil pathway.

The fastest way to address the security challenges in Northern Nigeria is through effective intelligence gathering, processing and sharing among all the security agencies. In addition a scotch earth policy is required in all the forests of the North. It was a superior force of arms that defeated Maitatsine in Kano. It was the same that dislodged the misguided jihadists in Bulunkutu, Jimeta and Jeka da fari. Good intelligence, fierce jackboot and good community engagements will deal a fatal blow on the evil forces that appear to have overwhelmed the state. When non-state actors take up arms against the state, there is only one remedy, uprooting them.

However, the most enduring solution to all these nexus of evil is a governance template that addresses the current poverty challenges in the North. A governance template that stops this weaponization of poverty as a means of attaining power. A governance template that addresses the widening gap of social inequality in our society.

A governance template that stops giving people handouts but creates opportunities for people to self actualize. If only Governors and Legislators in the North will stop distributing items that are sold instantly by beneficiaries and establish mega farms and mega workshops for learning trades it will reduce dependence and enhance productivity. If we turn every forest into a farm we will produce food and deny the evil forces operating hideouts. If we open mega workshops such as garment making, carpentry or fabrication we will move our communities to productive hubs and our people to skilled workers. I believe this is not too difficult to do. We either take care of our populations or we end up lamenting and blaming others for security challenges we are quite capable of overcoming. I hope someone is listening.

Nexus of Evil Forces, by Ahmad Sajoh first published by PR Nigeria

Ahmad Sajoh writes from 35 Oran Street Wuse Zone 1 Abuja

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